Study shows internet trolls are sadistic and narcissistic (Vox is looking at you)

A psychological study, published earlier this month, suggests that not all internet trolls partake in annoying or insulting others just for fun. Many internet trolls, the study concludes, are narcissistic, psychopathic, and have other self-serving personality traits. In other words, science discovered something that everyone, especially Vox‘s faithful commenters, already knew.

The study, published by Erin E. BuckelsPaul D. Trapnell, and Delroy L. Paulhus surveyed and tested over 1,200 internet users to see how their personalities matched up with their commenting behavior. According to Slate, some subjects were asked to identify their favorite type of activity on online commenting sites. Those who responded “trolling others” were subjected to a psychological survey designed to identify traits corresponding with the “Dark Tetrad”: Machiavellianism, narcissism, psychopathy, and sadism.

Not surprisingly, the self-identified trolls of the study had significant associations with all four of those. The strongest association was with sadism: taking pleasure in the suffering of others. “Both trolls and sadists feel sadistic glee at the distress of others,” the study authors wrote. Now Vox understands why commenters are always nit-picking his posts.

What’s scary for Vox is that Buckels isn’t sure that there’s an effective way to stop comment trolling. “Because the behaviors are intrinsically motivating for sadists, comment moderators will likely have a difficult time curbing trolling with punishments (e.g., banning users),” Buckels wrote in an email to Slate. “Ultimately, the allure of trolling may be too strong for sadists, who presumably have limited opportunities to express their sadistic interests in a socially-desirable manner.”

Fortunately for the hordes of Vox commenters, there won’t be any change in Vox‘s comment policy. People can get away with almost anything in this blog’s comment section (key word: almost).

Photo: Quinn Dombrowski via Flickr

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